The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) has issued a statement regarding its screening of a controversial “experimental documentary” from Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon.
Of the North (pictured) is a collection of clips Gagnon chose from out of close to 500 hours of content posted via video portals such as YouTube, which range from footage of Northern scenery and industrial machinery to scenes of drunkenness, vomiting and violence involving Inuit. According to Gagnon, he used clips that were posted by the individuals themselves.
“I am making a film about people who film themselves, not the people,” Gagnon told Canadian broadcaster APTN. “It doesn’t need to be objective… but lets the viewer free, more like jazz, a free association of images. It is almost an unrealistic piece.”
Gagnon, who has told the press he has never been to the Northern regions featured in the film, has created other works using a similar “mash-up” technique. Besides RIDM, of the North also screened at Dokufest in Kosovo this past April and at Switzerland’s Visions du Reel fest.
On Tuesday (November 25), Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq took to Twitter to call attention to the doc – referring to it as “a painful and racist film” while also stating that it featured her music but “without my consent. I did not give my permission to the filmmaker.”
The Polaris Prize-winning Tagaq has since posted that the music has now been taken out of the film, and Gagnon has told the CBC that he has replaced it with silence.
The controversy prompted RIDM organizers to issue a statement on Thursday (November 26) acknowledging that following the film’s two screenings during the festival, the administration team received “numerous complaints about the film and its inclusion in the festival.
“Far from seeing of the North as a racist work, it was programmed as a critical discourse on colonialism and its still devastating impacts, through a montage of images recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Inuit peoples,” the statement added. “We believe that this film confronts stereotypes that have afflicted Inuit peoples.
“Nevertheless, we are conscious of the harshness of the images in the film and sincerely regret the harm these images have had on members of the public,” it continued. “We recognize that we should have provided more context for the work and the filmmaker’s approach, beyond the usual space we provide for the public to discuss works with filmmakers after each screening. We should have provided a better forum for conversation about this work to ensure an inclusive and respectful space for everyone to express their point of view on the film.”
According to The Globe and Mail, Gagnon has said he will edit anything out of the film “that gives anyone problems. If I end up with 74 minutes of black leader silent film, then it will be a meditation on what happened.”
A spokesperson for Montreal-based distributor Videographe tells realscreen that the film is not currently in circulation, “so Dominic can remove the content he was asked to remove.”